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Original Creators: M.C. Escher

Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator”—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week, on the fortieth anniversary of his death, perhaps the trippiest woodcutter of all time: M.C. Escher.

Relativity, 1953

If you’re familiar with the work of M.C. Escher, you know the feeling of turning your head 360(degrees) counter-clockwise just to soak it all in. Born at the tail-end of the 19th century, Maurits Cornelis Escher was born a sickly child to a blue-collar family in the small Dutch province of Leeuwarden. Riddled with health problems during the majority of his early schooling, Escher failed the second grade, but was accepted into to the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts, where he excelled in both drawing and woodcutting under the tutelage of graphic artist Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita.

Day and Night, 1938

Roughly twenty-five years after leaving school in 1922, however, his travels having brought him a wife and son, and a fervent distaste for both fascism and what he called the “regular division” of planes, Escher created his first nonrealistic landscape in 1937. Sitting buildings atop a table filled with similarly-sized books, a pipe, and playing cards, Still Life and Street served as Escher’s first foray into the impossible realities created by distorting perspective. Escher would later master these techniques, turning architecture and design on their respective heads with his incredibly ornate, mathematically-inspired body of work.

Bond of Union, 1956

Setting his sights on a self-taught world of geometry, Escher began working with tessellations and symmetry, creating graphic, unsettling works in which plots of land become birds, architecture swirls into infinity, hands draw themselves from scratch, and stairs lead every which way but up. Publishing a definitive guide to the intersection between mathematics and graphic art, entitled Regular Division of the Plane in 1958, Escher became the preeminent figure in topological art, that is, the area of mathematics concerned with wholly continuous shapes conveyed through artistic means.

Convex and Concave, 1955

Lecturing across the country until his death in 1972, Escher’s legacy stands as a testament to the dynamic potential behind joining science and art. Iconic, and influential on everyone from Matt Groening to Christopher Nolan, Escher’s work is permanently on display at the Escher Museum at The Hague, and in numerous national galleries and museums worldwide.

Eye, 1946

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